May 10

Product Management Career Ladders

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There are a variety of reasons why people want to become product managers. One common reason is a desire for growth. That could mean growth in knowledge, growth in skills, growth in responsibilities and, let’s face it, growth in a paycheck.

Chances are, you won’t be able to experience that growth if you stay in the same role year after year. That’s where the product management career ladder comes into play.

The general product management career ladder explains the different roles that fall under the product management umbrella that require increased skills and responsibilities and offer increased compensation.

However, there are different views on what a proper product management career ladder looks like and the proper way to climb one. Here’s a collection of resources that explore what good career ladders should have, how you can best navigate them, and some examples of how some companies have crafted their product management career ladder.

How To Climb The Product Management Ladder

Ori Yitzhaki started practicing product management in 2007. Along the way, he’s gained experience in working across four different industries, as well as in a number of very successful corporations and very successful startups that went public.

Ori wrote a series of blog posts that provide his perspective on climbing the product management career ladder. The posts are based on his experience with starting in a non-product position and gradually moving up to a VP of product management role.

A key point in these posts is that there are many possible, successful routes to the top like there are on any mountain climb. Don’t let anyone—including Ori—tell you that there is only one way to get there.

Read on, here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Product Management Careers: Levels, Career Growth, And Promotions

Product managers’ hunger for career growth needs a great department career pathing and promotion system. Without such support, they can get restless, feel undervalued, and look for a different company where they can experience their desired growth.

Career pathing considers roles (titles, responsibilities, and compensation) and how that path will grow over time. Brent Tworetzky, Chief Operating Officer at Parsley Health and former product leader, explains the three key principles for a clear, results-based approach to product management career pathing and promotion: objectivity, transparency, and support.

Read on, here.

The Product Leadership Career Ladder

In addition to his formal coaching of product leaders (directors, VPs, and CPOs who directly manage teams of product managers), Rich Mironov talks with many senior individual contributors about the risks and challenges of moving “up the ladder” into product leadership roles.

To ensure that he was addressing the key questions that people have about moving into product leadership roles, he surveyed a group of senior product managers, capturing their top questions and concerns about getting promoted.

A majority of the responses fell into these three categories, for which he provided his thoughts:

What does a product leader actually do?

  • Concern about giving up direct product management work and responsibilities
  • How to move up into a director role or signal interest

Read on, here.

Non-linear Careers Are The Norm, So Embrace Them

The common perception of a product management career ladder is that it forms a straight line up the ranks at your company. Robert Drury, Product Manager at Watch-Finder.com and Founder of GettingStartedInProduct.com, suggests that taking a winding road might just make you a better product manager than climbing a ladder.

He’s probably influenced by his own career, which has included stints as a professional soccer player, cinema manager, recruitment consultant, and project manager before moving into product management.

Robert explains how most of these stops influenced his career and describes how a non-linear career path can prepare you to be a better product manager and fit your current situation so that you can balance your professional and personal life.

Read on, here.

Define Your Own Product Management Career Path

Many companies provide a single career path up the proverbial corporate ladder, where the only way to get ahead is by moving up in title, rung by rung.

For most of her career, Joni Hoadley, a product management coach and consultant, worked at startups that had single-track product management career paths. Most of these companies were small enough that she could manage small teams while being hands-on, defining products, and collaborating with designers and engineers to bring those products to life.

On two different occasions, she had to choose between being a people manager or an individual contributor. She shared her experiences in the hope that they can help deal with similar decisions.

Read on, here.

It’s Time To Fight For A Dual Product Management Career Path

Product management has largely been seen as an intermediate step on a route to something loftier, which usually means managing people more so than managing products.

But what if you really love being a product manager and want to do more and better product work? Or what if you don’t define your life by your job and want to have a life outside of work?

Ken Norton, advisor and coach to product managers and formerly a Product Leader at Google, argues that companies should embrace multitrack job ladders for product managers who prefer product leadership to people management. This article is a follow-up to an earlier article in which Ken described what a dual-track product management career ladder might look like.

Read on, here.

Product Management Career Ladders At 8 Top Technology Firms

Sachin Rekhi, Founder & CEO at Notejoy, often mentors product managers on the career paths available to them within the profession. To help with his mentoring, Sachin shared the career ladders for product managers at eight top technology firms, as well as some of the key dimensions upon which advancement in the profession occurs.

The technology firms that Sachin showcases all have hundreds of product managers within their organization and have invested in career ladders for their respective product organizations.

Read on, here.

Define Your Own Product Management Career Path

The Importance of a Clear Career Path for Product Managers

Product management is an elusive craft. We all think we know what we’re talking about, but when it comes down to it, the difference between great, good, and not quite good enough can be pretty slippery.

Jane Honey (Senior Director of Product at Intercom) and Brian Donohue (Senior Director of Product Management at Intercom) found that career ladders can bring clarity in the form of role expectations and what you need to do to get a promotion; and serve as the basis of fair, consistent performance reviews.

Jane and Brian also found that career ladders can be difficult to write, so they shared their ladder to act as inspiration when considering what the PM career ladder should look like in your own organization.

Read on, here.

The Product Manager Role At Gitlab

GitLab is one of the rare companies that provides open access to their employee handbook. Of particular interest for our resource guide, that includes a look at their product management organizational structure and how it relates to the general organizational structure for the entire company.

These pages include a look at the various roles in the product management organizational structure, the job requirements and expectations for each, and advice on how to move from one role to the next.

While this resource is most useful for product people who work at GitLab (or who would like to work there), it also provides some deep insight into how one company structures their product management organization. You may find that information a helpful example that you can refer to when structuring your own product organization.

Read on, here.

Product Team Levels At Wise

The folks at Wise use career maps to map out the different levels within a team. Career maps give clarity on what they expect at each level and help their product people know how they can progress in their team. The career maps also help product leaders at Wise evaluate impact and pay their people consistently and fairly.

When you select a category and a career level (1 is a product manager; 5 is a senior product director / product lead), you can see the expectations and salary range for that level. 

This resource is really helpful if you’re considering a job at Wise, but it also provides some good insight into the various career levels in Wise’s product organization. It also provides an example of how expectations can expand from one career level to the next.

Read on, here.


GET THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR PRODUCT MANAGERSEnjoy this article?
Get much more by downloading this 18,000 word Ultimate Guide for Product Managers. Find the best newsletters, communities, books, and valuable articles on product discovery, strategy, careers and more!

 

 

 

Kent J McDonald

About the author

Kent J McDonald writes about and practices software product management. He has product development experience in a variety of industries including financial services, health insurance, nonprofit, and automotive. Kent practices his craft with a variety of product teams and provides just in time resources for product people at KBP.media and Product Collective. When not writing or product managing, Kent is his family’s #ubersherpa, listens to jazz and podcasts (but not necessarily podcasts about jazz), and collects national parks.


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